When I have good news to share, I always tell my husband first because I can count on him to be as enthusiastic as I am. When I’ve been on a shopping spree at Target, I keep my mouth shut because, well, let’s just say his joy would never match my own.
In the minefield of relationships I’ve inadvertently
set off enough doozies to know the importance of keeping connections strong. Since our spouses, kids, relatives and friends don’t come with a How to Avoid Screwing Up manual, I’ve gathered some tried-and-true relationship advice from friends and experts.
’Til Death Do Us Part
You’re with him for the rest of your life, so you might as well start here.
Never ask him 34 times to fix the screen door. Greg Godek, author of Confessions of a True Romantic, who has heard stories from thousands of couples in his romance seminars, makes a good (albeit annoying) point: “When husbands or kids hear nagging, they just—click—turn you right off because they’ve heard it all before. You really are producing the opposite of what you want.”
Never be right all the time (even if you are). It’s no secret that men have a wrong…er, different approach to problems. “Men tend to act, while women prefer to reach out and research,” says Sabra Brock, president of the management training company the Training Advantage, whose latest book is Men Head East, Women Turn Right: How to Meet in the Middle When Facing Change. But always assuming your way is the best can hurt any relationship. Whether you’re dealing with a financial fiasco or wallpapering the bathroom, be open (or at least appear to be open) to other suggestions.
Never freak out at the same time. “That’s the secret to a good marriage,” insists Donna Sperry of Windsor, Colorado. “My husband, Jay, and I have learned to tell when the other is at the breaking point, whether we’re overwhelmed with school/kid conflicts or dealing with our daughter’s health insurance issues. One of us steps up to the plate so the other can regroup. It’s a huge gift, knowing we can count on each other for that.”
Never dish about the time he measured his receding hairline. Have intimate details on the tip of your tongue? Bite it—hard. “Your spouse should be able to cry with you, tell you he’s afraid, even act stupid. When you betray that by telling someone else, that trust disappears really fast,” says Godek.
Never expect him to remember the anniversary of the first time you wished on a star together.
Nor can he read your mind about wanting sapphire earrings instead of a smoothie maker. Avoid the inevitable letdown by just asking for what you want. (Or do what I do: Buy your own presents, say you hid them in his closet and remark on how great it is that all his shopping is done.)
Never miss an opportunity to make out like teenagers.
Just be sure the kids aren’t in the back seat of the car when you are. “Taking each other for granted happens just like getting old or putting on weight: slowly, over time,” Godek says. Fight against complacency and relive the days when sitting on the couch and gazing into each other’s eyes sufficed as the evening’s entertainment.
Friends ’Til the End
Your real friends will accept you no matter what—unless you tick them off.
Never say, “Oh, you look tired!” ‘Cause that doesn’t exactly spread sunshine on someone’s day.
Never yell at your kids or criticize your husband—without making sure no one else is around.
“It’s unpleasant and awkward for your friends to hear that,” says communications expert Leil Lowndes, who penned How to Be a People Magnet. Plus, it makes you look like a shrew instead of the in-control, person-in-the-right that we all know you are.
Never pretend regular “venting” is anything more than whining with a nicer name. No matter how much your friend likes you, constant complaining will drive her away, Lowndes says.
Never let it slip that one friend thinks another friend dresses like a thrift-shop reject. The minute you hit “send” on a gossipy e-mail, you’ll realize you addressed it to the wrong person. The best rule of thumb? “Unless, in your very best judgment, someone’s safety is in jeopardy, never share secrets without permission,” says sociologist Jan Yager, Ph.D., author of When
Never tell ’em how much they really screwed up. It’s rarely as constructive as you think it is. Amy Crane of Erie, Pennsylvania, learned that the hard way when she and a friend were volunteering for an organization. “I criticized the way she led a support group meeting. Naturally, she got defensive and attacked me back,” Amy remembers. “After I thought about it, I realized I was wrong to have done it, and I apologized. It took several heart-to-hearts before we were OK again.”
Never let a good friend forget your name.
Put someone on your back burner for a while, and you’re the one who’ll get burned. “It’s something you can do without even realizing it,” says Susan Lennon of Rocky Hill, Connecticut. “I know things happen in the crush of daily life, but it’s important to keep up with friends and remember obligations, whether it’s a promised lunch date or returning a borrowed book.”
Blood Is Thicker Than Water…Unless you water down your family ties too much.
Never forget that you’re no. 1. You can’t give your all to any other family member if you don’t have it all to give. Like they say in airplanes: Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.
Never forget that you once looked adorable in black patent-leather Mary Janes.
Your 15-year-old will always be your baby, so it’s only natural to assume your parents will always picture you in that frilly Easter dress. Accept it instead of fighting it, especially when they’re old and feeble and need you more than they can say.
Never get in the middle of his family squabbles, even if you’re asked to.
I’ve been there, done that and barely lived to tell about it.
Never seethe about your sister dissing your green bean salad on Thanksgiving 1989. If you want to preserve a relationship with your sister, your mom or any other relative, get your beef out in the open, then put it behind you.
Kids Are People, Too
You thought you’d get to call all the shots once you were the grownup.
Never use cute nicknames after they can talk. My mom calling me “Diaper Di” because I was slow to potty-train didn’t exactly create warm fuzzies between us, just as my calling my firstborn “Jack Sprat” in front of his kindergarten buddies didn’t strengthen our bond, either. Labeling your son “the shy one” or saying your daughter is clueless about computers also throws cold water on a parent-child relationship. “It also runs the risk of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy,” warns Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of Don’t Give Me That Attitude!
Never bite your kid back. (Tempting as it may be.)
Never tell your daughter she looks awful in body-hugging, Britney Spears-style clothes.
After one Wisconsin woman did that, her daughter refused to wear anything else. Criticizing your kids’ friends is another relationship booby trap; your child is more likely to sever the relationship with you than them.
Never threaten to trade your kids in for golden retrievers.
My little boys took me seriously and burst into tears.
Never assume you’re not ready for the Talk.
Discussions about sex, drugs or anything else that can make a crucial difference are kind of like advanced math—if you wait too long, your kids will be able to tell you more than you can tell them. Take solace in the knowledge that feeling awkward is just as much a part of parenthood as it is of childhood.